1912 – Three Counties History & Heritage
AT A GLANCE
Welcome to this brand new tour exploring the history and rich heritage of the three English counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. A wonderful tour, visiting an array of delights, set in outstanding countryside - all unhurriedly and at our own pace.
This tour is all about the history and rich heritage of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire – three deeply rural counties each endowed, historically, with wealth and piety, a winning combination for today's interested tourist.
The bedrock of the tour is the wonderful array of buildings – religious and vernacular, splendid and humble – that our forebears built and, not only do we explore these buildings, in pure architectural and historical terms, but we explore too, the connections, and sometimes the co-incidences, that have brought people and events together, with these buildings.
We will visit castles, the houses of the wealthy and houses of the not-so-wealthy, touch upon remarkable technological developments during the Second World War and marvel at one of the finest selections of English ecclesiastical architecture – ranging from humble Saxon churches to the glorious abbey churches of Tewkesbury and Pershore, and the magnificent cathedral churches of Gloucester, Hereford & Worcester.
We will trip over history and its players daily, not least King John, Edward II and William Shakespeare – three key players indeed.
We plan to join the congregations at Hereford Cathedral, on Friday evening for Evensong, and at Tewkesbury Abbey, on Sunday morning for Sung Eucharist, but we would not wish anyone to feel awkward in such participation, nor embarrassed to say so. Please let us know if you would prefer not to participate, and we will arrange an alternative.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries
Throughout the text and, indeed, throughout the tour, we refer to the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The Act of Supremacy in 1534 declared Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the Church of England, thus separating England from papal authority. This and subsequent acts gave the Crown the authority to disband monasteries in England, Wales and Ireland, appropriate their income and dispossess them of their assets. This dissolution of the monasteries took place between 1536 and 1540, and encompasses all the religious establishments that were appropriated by the Crown in this period.
There are numerous sources of information, the internet being chief amongst them, and we will have with us, on the tour, reference books, guide books and notes on each of the attractions we visit. In particular, we will have notes on the various forms of architectural styles, the names we use and a timeline as reference.
I am indebted to Simon Jenkins – journalist, historian & author – and his publishers, whose wonderfully instructive three books England's Thousand Best Churches, England's Thousand Best Houses and England's Cathedrals have aided my research enormously.
England's Thousand Best Churches, published by Allen Lane 1999; England's Thousand Best Houses, published by Allen Lane 2003; and England's Cathedrals, published by Little, Brown 2016.
Sleeping & Eating
We spend the first five nights of the tour in the delightful Herefordshire market town of Ledbury, at The Feathers Hotel, a 'black-and-white' half-timbered, Tudor building dating from as early as 1560, and the final night of the tour at The Arden Hotel, directly opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon.
We will dine-in, at The Feathers, on three evenings and dine-out at The Butchers Arms, in the village of Woolhope, on our return from Hereford, and at The Inn at Wellend, on our return from Worcester. In Stratford-upon-Avon we will have a pre-theatre supper at either The Arden or at No 9 Church Street.
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19–25 September 2019 | 7 days
Gardens = GREEN Hotels & Restaurants = RED Transport = BLUE Other Attractions = ORANGE
DAY 1 – THU 19 SEPT
Tim will collect you from either Stansted Airport or from the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel, immediately north of Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport and, once we are all together, we drive west, to Croome, the former country seat of the Earls of Coventry, for lunch and the afternoon exploring this delightful historic house and landscape.
What we see at Croome today is largely due to the 6th Earl who, aged 28, inherited Croome in 1751. A leading trend-setter of his day, he lavished the equivalent of £35 million on Croome, carrying out extensive works on the house, Croome Court, and its surrounding parkland. He was the first to commission Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, and he commissioned a young Robert Adam early in his career, and, later on, James Wyatt – three giants of late-eighteenth century design and architecture.
Also at Croome is a small museum telling the story of RAF Defford, an airfield built in the grounds of Croome park and one of the most secret places in the country during the Second World War. Defford was the centre for many wartime developments, including Airborne Radar and, in 1945, Defford witnessed the world's first 'blind landing', using the forerunner of our modern Instrument Landing System.
It is then just a short drive to Ledbury, and The Feathers Hotel, our home for the next five nights, where we will arrive in good time to check-in, relax and enjoy a drink before dinner at the hotel.
Today's total driving is about 150 miles/240 km
DAY 2 – FRI 20 SEPT
We spend today exploring deepest Herefordshire, one of England's prettiest and most rural counties, starting the day with three short visits. Firstly, to Goodrich Castle overlooking an ancient crossing point of the river Wye, its Norman keep has stood here since the 11th century and its 13th century defensive walls are still remarkably intact, despite a two-month siege in 1646, during the English Civil War. Our next two visits are to two churches, St Mary & St David's, Kilpeck, widely regarded as England's most perfect Norman church, and Dore Abbey, the surviving remnants of the old Cistercian abbey, rebuilt in 1180 and neatly showing the transition from Norman to Early English Gothic.
From here we drive along the Golden Valley, for lunch and a wander around Hay-on-Wye, a border market town, famous world-wide for the number of its second-hand and antiquarian bookshops.
From Hay we drive to Hereford Cathedral, where there has been a place of worship since at least the 8th century. It is reputed to have the finest cathedral library, including the unique Mappa Mundi, an outstanding treasure of the medieval world, recording how 13th-century scholars interpreted the world. We will have a guided tour of the cathedral, visit the library to see the Mappa Mundi and, for those who wish to, attend Evensong, sung by the cathedral choir.
We will have dinner at The Butchers Arms, Woolhope, on our return home to Ledbury.
Today's total driving is about 90 miles/145 km
DAY 3 – SAT 21 SEPT
There has been a market in Ledbury since 1138 and it is Market Day today, so we can start there, before we drive north, to visit Brockhampton a rural estate at the heart of which lies Lower Brockhampton Manor, a moated farmhouse built around 1380-1400 and accessed via a charming timber-framed gatehouse. From Brockhampton we continue north to visit Harvington Hall, a beautiful moated manor house with the largest surviving series of priest hides in the country, and virtually unaltered since the late 1500s. The home of a prominent Roman Catholic family, Harvington brings to life the fascinating history of Roman Catholic survival during the Reformation.
After lunch, at Harvington, we drive to Worcester, to spend the rest of the afternoon at Worcester Cathedral. Founded in 680, Saint Wulfstan began the present building in 1084, when Worcester was a centre of great learning and its Benedictine monks went to university to study theology, medicine, law, history, mathematics, physics, and astronomy. The monastery continued until 1540, when Henry VIII dissolved it, and some of the last monks became the first Dean and Chapter.
King John is buried at Worcester and, besides having a guided tour of the cathedral, we will visit the library, where King John's Will, the oldest remaining royal testament in England, is kept. Born on Christmas Eve 1166, King John reigned from 1199, to his death in 1216, over a vast empire, stretching from Gascony, in the south of France, to England, areas of Wales and some of Ireland. Famous for agreeing to the Magna Carta, we will learn something of the truth of him, especially in light of the fact that we will be seeing Shakespeare's version of events, in his play King John, on Tuesday evening.
We will dine at the Inn at Wellend, en route home to Ledbury.
Today's total driving is about 75 miles/120 km
DAY 4 – SUN 22 SEPT
It is a slightly lazy start to the day, before the 11.00 o'clock Sung Eucharist service at Tewkesbury Abbey, one of England's most splendid Norman churches, noted for having the biggest Norman tower in Europe. We will get to the church ahead of the service and stay, to socialise and see something of the church, afterwards.
Once one England's great country houses, Witley Court reached its social peak in late Victorian and Edwardian society, when it was famous for its lavish parties and royal entertainments. A devastating fire, in 1937, changed all this and transformed an opulent house into one of the country’s most spectacular ruins.
Consecrated in 1735, the neighbouring parish church of Great Witley survived, untouched by the fire, and thankfully so. It is, quite possibly, the finest English Baroque church in England, outside London, and the interior is the work of James Gibbs, the foremost Baroque architect of his day.
We will return to Ledbury, to relax and enjoy a drink before dinner at The Feathers.
Today's total driving is about 70 miles/110 km
DAY 5 – MON 23 SEPT
We spend the day in Gloucestershire, starting with a brief visit to St Mary's, the early 12th century parish church of Kempley, to see what are widely regarded to be the most complete and well-preserved wall paintings in England. Painted between the 12th and 14th centuries, the walls were whitewashed at the Reformation, uncovered in 1872 and restored in the mid-1950s.
From here we drive into Gloucester, to visit Gloucester Cathedral for a guided tour of the cathedral and its beautiful, Norman crypt. Osric, an Anglo-Saxon prince, founded a religious house here in 678-9, but little of this is known, until 1072, when William I appointed Serlo, an energetic monk from Mont St Michel to be its Abbot, and he started work on today's building in 1089.
Henry III, who had succeeded to the throne aged only nine, was crowned here in 1216, and a century later, in 1327, Edward II, who had been murdered at Berkeley Castle, was buried here.
And so to the crime scene. The first Berkeley Castle was a motte-and-bailey castle, built around 1067, but this was replaced by Robert Fitzharding, a wealthy burgess of Bristol, who built the circular shell keep that we see today, during 1153–56. Fitzharding is the founder of the Berkeley family, who continue to live in the castle today.
We will explore Berkeley, the castle, the town and its glorious parish church, before returning to Ledbury, for dinner at The Feathers.
Today's total driving is about 70 miles/110 km
DAY 6 – TUE 24 SEPT
We depart Ledbury for the limelight of Stratford-upon-Avon, starting in Deerhurst, a hamlet on the banks of the river Severn to visit Odda’s Chapel, one of the most complete surviving Saxon churches in England and St Mary's Parish Church, a former Anglo-Saxon minster. Existing from at least 804, St Mary's became one of the most important foundations in Mercia, so much so that it was where Edmund Ironside and the Danish King Cnut met, in 1016, to declare peace and divided England between them.
We continue west to Pershore, a pretty market town on the banks of the Avon, for lunch and to visit Pershore Abbey, a Norman church begun, like Tewkesbury, within one generation of the Conquest – celebrating its Millennium in 1972. The interior is regarded as one of the most beautiful in the country with its unique ploughshare vaulting, the combined triforium and clerestory, and the magnificent tower with its lantern and free-standing ringing platform.
Our final visit, before Stratford, is to Charlecote Park, the former seat of the Lucy family, a prominent Anglo-Norman family who built their new house here in 1558, and welcomed Elizabeth I to stay in 1572. The house we see today retains its Elizabethan core, but is largely Victorian, the product of George Hammond Lucy, who inherited the house in 1823 and set about recreating it.
Rumour has it that a young William Shakespeare was caught poaching and was brought before a Lucy Magistrate, but he took his revenge by making him Justice Shallow in the Merry Wives of Windsor.
Charlecote is just outside Stratford, where we plan to arrive in good time to check-in to The Arden Hotel, enjoy a pre-theatre supper, and walk across the road to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for the evening's performance of King John.
Today's total driving is about 70 miles/110 km
DAY 7 – WED 25 SEPT
We have the whole morning in Stratford-upon-Avon, and we plan to buy tickets allowing you access to the five properties owned or administered by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, including Shakespeare's Birthplace and Anne Hathaway's Cottage.
We haven't quite taken into account anyone with a distinct disinterest in Shakespeare, but there is much to do in Stratford for that select group, although avoiding the Bard entirely isn't easy.
The times of any late-afternoon or early-evening flights from Heathrow will determine exactly what time we need to leave Stratford, but the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel is about a two-hour drive away and, depending upon traffic, a little less than that again to Stansted Airport, where the tour ends and where we will be in good time for any late-evening flights home.
For those of you who are staying on in Britain, and not wishing to return to either Heathrow Airport or to Stansted Airport, we will assist you in getting to your next destination.
Today's total driving is about 90 miles/145 km
During our tours we endeavour to be as faithful to our itineraries as possible, but sometimes changes do occur, either necessarily or unavoidably.